Got out of camp by 7:05, 15 minutes faster than my usual. It was cool, but not that cold relative to the hour, the date, and the elevation.
Speaking of elevation, right off the bat I had a steep climb up to Upper Slide Lake, and then an even steeper climb up the hill behind it. I hit 11000 feet of elevation within the first fifteen minutes of hiking, and an hour and change later, having finally climbed up to the CDT just south of the fire closure boundary and climbed yet further to the high point for the day, I had passed 11,500 feet in elevation. There was a lot of stopping to huff and puff and let my legs stop burning over those 3 miles. If it hadn’t been so steep and rocky…
But once I was up there on the divide, I was wishing I could have hiked the actual CDT through the Zirkels. There were no trees up there, and there were views for miles. I bet it went on like that for many more miles north from there, but I was headed south and predominantly downhill. I did take a nice snack break at that high point and discovered it had good cell service. I started texting some numbers I had found to see if I could get a ride into town out of Buffalo Pass that very day. It was only 9 miles ahead. But I only got “no” when I got an answer at all.
Skipping ahead, I made it to Buffalo Pass by lunchtime. It wasn’t all downhill. There were a few steep climbs. But other than the views near the beginning, there was nothing notable about that descent.
I hailed a man driving a truck who was only going a mile down. I asked about charging my phone. He sent me up the road to the other trailhead I would be going past anyway, saying there were folks up there that probably had a way. So I went up the hill to the Powerline Trailhead.
There were a couple of big tents there and a colorful assortment of bags spread out on tarps. The tent and the truck backed up to it was filled with all sorts of food. It was an aside station for an ultramarathon you see, the Run Rabbit Run 50 & 100 mile race, which lasted from that morning at 8 until the following evening at 8. The volunteers here were expecting their first runners to arrive in an hour, and they were basically already set up.
And they did gave a nice power bank I could plug into while I had my lunch. It was fun chatting with the volunteers about the event and hiking the trail. I got to dump my trash in their trash can and even fill my water bag from their tanks, a major time saver. They even gave me a piece of watermelon.
I also heard that hitching to and from that pass was usually really easy, but the only reason I wanted to go from there was to get my tent repaired at the Big Agnes store. Steamboat Springs is the headquarters for Big Agnes (it’s named for a mountain in the Zirkels just west of Mt. Zirkel itself and the second highest peak in the wilderness) and their store there does gear and tent repairs. But I was able to call the store from there, and they only repair Big Agnes tents, so I decided to keep hiking.
Then runners started coming in. I tried to stand just out of the way as they started getting to work. But I still felt like I was intruding, so I waited for my phone to hit 60% and hiked up the hill.
The trail south from there was festooned with markings and signs for the runners. It was also briefly an ATV track, and at one point I had to keep pulling over as five in a row came past. But luckily, the 1 mile climb at the start was the last steep climb of the day. It was all alternately level or downhill from there, so my pace skyrocketed.
I took one snack break at 4:40, hiked past some lakes, and then dinner at 7 in a campsite near another lake. I switched to headlamp mode, put on my down puffy jacket, and started hiking again just after 7:30.
I soon passed through the Base Camp Trailhead and saw what was surely another aid station being set up, though I don’t think any runners would be reaching it until the next day because it’s only on the 50 mile course. Maybe. I’m just guessing based on the color coding of the trail markings. I didn’t stop. I just went on down the hill listening to podcasts (which I could do now that my phone had more charge) and cruised into Dumont Lake Campground around 9:30.
I found an unused campsite and threw up my tent in it. Sure, it’s a fee campground and I didn’t pay, but they should be grateful to have the honor of my august personage occupying a 20 square foot area in their campground for 8 hours. Anyway, sleep by 11 or so.
Trail miles: 24.4 (actually hiked 27.5)
Distance to Steamboat Springs: 2 miles